Representation of environmental data spaces

Environmental Data Space: Fighting climate change together

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The careful analysis of environmental data allows us to make more informed decisions, but the lack of availability of such data can still be a major stumbling block. Especially when it’s not made available for good reason.

There is plenty of data that shows that offshore wind turbines can make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse emissions, but they cannot be built just anywhere. Marine life and vulnerable ecosystems have to be protected. The relevant data regarding this cannot be shared publicly, both to protect rare species and due to economic concerns.

Another example is noise data. If you want to buy a house or are planning a vacation, you may well wonder about the noise level in the surrounding area. Diving deeper, you will find that only highly aggregated data is easily accessible. That’s because the more detailed data is considered sensitive, as it would allow competitors to learn more than intended about local economic activities, such as the exact goings-on at a factory.

This pattern can be observed for many environmental topics. Where possible, environmental data is being made available and can be re-used by NGOs, start-ups and public authorities. However, this data is only the tip of the iceberg and much more needs to be done. More open data or securely shared data is needed to find solutions. Not only for private issues, but for the big challenges of our time, such as the current energy crisis and climate change.

Data Space: secure sharing

If sensitive data is to be made available for environmental causes, the data controllers will need to retain control over their data, while still being able to share it – under defined conditions.

A year ago, the German environmental data start-up wetransform decided to become a member of the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA), with the goal of building up an environmental data spaces community. In this community, work from many projects is coordinated, allowing concepts for the governance and architecture of such a data space to be developed.

In the end, wetransform and the community want to answer two questions:

What should an environmental data space look like?
Which best practices will need to be implemented to make the data space work?
The community is also a place to make sure that project results are transparent.

With environmental issues being such a hot button topic, there are many projects surrounding it. All too often, the people involved will not talk to each other, or sometimes even know of each other’s existence, even though they could benefit tremendously from doing so. Additionally, projects come to an end without providing an accessible repository for their data, meaning that what could be a valuable asset to future projects is effectively lost.

We need bridges that span between projects and remain in place after a project ends. And we need a data space community – to share projects and best practices. The technical side of this idea is relatively easy: the IDS Eclipse Data Space connector is up and running.

The organisational side is more challenging, as governmental organisations, NGOs, and others will need to be brought on board. It can be difficult to know who needs what level of access to certain data and what exactly is generated by them having that access.

To complicate matters further, a recent survey showed that for many potential candidates, the concept of a data space is still new and not yet fully understood.

Hearts and minds

A specific obstacle for environmental data sharing is that, unlike businesses where the economic value of shared data is often better understood, public authorities tend to lack knowledge on the relevant processes. This also means that they will often lack a clear legal framework for it. They fear any potential risks attached to sharing data more openly and are not yet confident in their decision-making surrounding such a process. As a result, access to data is often declined.

High level European decision makers have taken note of this and acted accordingly, shaping the new European data strategy. This strategy focuses on improving data re-usage – both for public and private data.

We may have reached a point where technology is no longer blocking us from doing better, but the implementation in the hearts and minds of the people involved is still a work in progress.

In order to remedy this, the entire environmental community needs to be educated on the benefits of data sharing.

Stronger together

wetransform supports organisations that want to become part of an environmental data space by acting as a consultant. They are the experts who have developed the relevant processes and know how data can be contributed and used.

Their core competence now is the operation and development of data infrastructures that increase data accessibility.

Over 50.000 data sets have already been shared on wetransform’s hale»connect platform, most of them as open data, but this is still only a small number compared to what is possible. Through a certified solution by the IDSA it will be possible to share data across multiple data spaces, where participants can see how value is added in a secure way.

The state of our planet is pressing. To solve problems while we still can, we need to share data. With the technology already in place, it is now up to us to learn and act fast.

Let’s multiply the possibilities of data use. Many hands make lighter work and together we can make a true impact.

Join the Environmental Data Spaces Community!

Note: This article was originally published by the International Data Spaces Association on July 14th, 2022